The Rise and Decline of the Business Roundtable: Large Corporations and Congressional Lobbying

Tuesday, 12 July 2016: 09:25
Location: Hörsaal 21 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Bruce CRONIN, University of Greenwich, United Kingdom
The US Business Roundtable provides an interesting extension of the legitimising claim that think tanks act above particular interests as expressions of a common or national interest. While explicitly advocating the interests of the largest US corporations, the Roundtable simultaneously embodies Charles Wilson’s popularly interpreted dictat “What’s good for General Motors is good for the country”. Where more broad-based business-based associations such as the Chambers of Commerce were unrelenting in opposing government restrictions in virtually any form, the Business Roundtable was much more selective, pragmatic and ultimately effective through the 1970s, 80s and early 90s.


Mark Mizruchi argues that the success of the Roundtable and other business-based interest groups and think tanks during this period actually generated the hysteresis apparent in contemporary US government, ultimately undermining the ability of such lobbies to act collectively. But in this chapter I challenge this proposition through an examination of the dual strategies used by large corporations in the US to represent their interests.

Previous research on corporate engagement with think tanks and lobbying has concentrated on interlocking directorships, membership of collective groups and contributions to political action committees as indicators of corporate unity and proxies for government influence. But lobbying disclosure returns, mandated over the last decade, provide a large untapped source of data on the efforts of corporate representations to Congress in considerable detail. I employ social network analysis to identify the distinct channels of representation used by large corporations individually and complementarily to pursue a variety of issues with Congress.


I find that participation in think tanks such as the Business Roundtable is one mechanism of representation that complements rather than contradicts more direct political representation by individual corporations themselves and that collective action is still evident with respect to congressional lobbying by large corporations.